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Ezekiel Elliott case continues to be a bizarre balancing act for the NFL


<> at AT&T Stadium on December 26, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.

Tom Pennington

In his comments during the March league meetings in Arizona, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made the case to his colleagues for getting out of the business of conducting internal investigations that supplement the work of the criminal justice system. And while Jones clearly has a vested interest in the current machinations of that specific mechanism, he made a valid point.

With Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who according to Clarence E. Hill, Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram previously was told he’d be cleared, now bracing for a suspension under the Personal Conduct Policy for alleged misconduct that resulted in neither an arrest nor charges, the league finds itself clumsily trying to balance conflicting business considerations while attempting to engage in what should be (but never can be) an objective, dispassionate assessment of the facts. On one hand, the league needs to placate Jones, who has more power than ever and who, we’re told, made it clear to the powers-that-be a year ago that he won’t be as gracious and compliant as Patriots owner Robert Kraft if a star player gets banned for something the boss thinks is bogus. On the other hand, the league needs to be cognizant of the potential P.R. consequences that would flow from a decision to give Elliott a pass -- especially if his alleged victim files a lawsuit and eventually tells a compelling tale of domestic violence that the court of public opinion finds persuasive.

Surely, that’s one of the reasons why this case has taken so long to resolve. Whether the result of delicate negotiation or persistent consternation, the league office has been tiptoeing through a potential minefield, trying to find a path that will appease everyone involved and assuage the possibility of a Ray Rice/Josh Brown-style media firestorm.

Whatever the league does, it needs to do it now. The internal appeals process needs to be resolved before Week One, so that the potential suspension doesn’t hover one week at a time over the 2017 season. A cynic would say that influential Giants co-owner John Mara is pushing for immediate resolution, so that his team won’t have to face Elliott in Week One. Right or wrong, the league’s bungling of other investigations invites skepticism and cynicism when it comes to this one.

So what happens with Elliott? It’s possible that Friday’s report from Adam Schefter of ESPN was the product not of an exasperated Elliott camp accepting the inevitable but a deliberate leak from the league office aimed at gauging public opinion (along with the possible wrath of Jerry) before making a final decision. Whatever the motivation, a decision must come ASAFP if the league hopes for its internal investigation process to preserve any credibility whatsoever.